Reach has expanded its experiments with reader revenue to diversify away from its heavy reliance on advertising, which has seen an industry-wide decline, and build relationships with its most loyal readers.
However Reach’s overall strategy is to continue to keep its content free online.
Martin Little, audience transformation director at Reach, told Press Gazette it “has come about from just listening to our audience. Ultimately, we provide free content, that’s a business strategy and we fund that through advertising predominantly. But this is about giving our readers a different way to consume our sites.”
The company’s customer value strategy has seen it gain 13.5 million registered users across its national and regional news portfolio.
“We’re looking to diversify revenues and open up reader revenue as an option for us as a business in a way we hadn’t before, and doing that through premium experiences… it’s a natural segue for the customer value strategy to start to open up different experience-based stuff which allows people to enjoy our brands, enjoy our content, in a different way.”
He added that advertising remains “at the heart of our strategy” and will continue to be “the lion’s share” of revenue.
“But ultimately we’ve got a segment of our audience who are saying we are willing to pay for a better time on your brands and we’re listening to that.”
Premium apps: 1%+ of MEN app audience already converted
The first step on the Reach’s new reader-revenue journey was in June when a metered paywall was launched on the Manchester Evening News and Manchester United apps. The Liverpool Echo and Liverpool FC apps have since followed, with a “rapid uptick” in the number of premium apps being launched in the next four to six weeks, according to Little.
The two news apps, which cost £19.99 per year or £2.99 per month, give readers 25 free articles a week for free, while on the football apps the meter is set at ten articles. The football audience has proved “absolutely critical to driving” the new strategy.
Little said these meters were set to balance consumption trends and the fact that they “don’t want to scare people off. We want people still in these apps.”
Little said the MEN app has already converted more than 1% of its audience to become subscribers “which we’re quite happy with”.
“For context I’d say for instance if you look at other publishers who are behind very hard paywalls [they] convert 3-4% of their registered audience base.” He added that, in comparison, the MEN still has a free website alongside the paid-for app. “The app is all about the experience.”
“There’s definitely a demand from our loyal users – you’ve got lots of people who just come to your sites once or twice a month, and you’ve got those who come twice a day, three times a day,” Little said. “Those are the ones who really are looking for better experiences with us and the most loyal ones are the most important ones for this rollout.”
Newsletters: ‘Strong personalities’ work
Since July, Reach has launched about 12 paid-for newsletters, all on Substack. “Again, we’re really keen to get more of those up and running in the future,” Little said referring to the weeks and months ahead.
These are based around some of the group’s “strong personalities” rather than on a brand-by-brand basis. “It’s about who do we have who’s got a real influence in that space, who people will listen to and want to hear from on a regular basis,” Little added.
Some of the launches so far include:
- Bake On Bake Off, written by Surrey Live What’s On writer Laura Nightingale, had been going since 2021 but moved to a paid-for Substack model in July
- Spurs with Alasdair Gold, written by Football London’s Tottenham Hotspur correspondent
- Earth Watch, written by the Mirror’s environment editor Nada Farhoud who tells readers: “By supporting this newsletter you are helping to fund environmental investigative journalism, vital in this time of a climate emergency.”
Reach chose to use Substack because it has already proved to be a successful platform for many newsletter writers and it is “easy to get up and running”, Little said.
Although the content in these newsletters is behind a paywall, Reach also separately sends out free versions of them featuring more links to sites around the group, while the column-style content also goes in the apps.
Express Premium taps into ‘incredibly passionate audience base’
About three weeks ago the Daily Express website launched the option for readers to pay for an ad-free experience. It costs £19.99 per year or £2.99 a month, the same price as the premium apps.
Little said the Express had been chosen to trial the premium option because of its “incredibly passionate audience base – they really believe what the Express stands for”.
He said this was demonstrated by the commenting volume on the site: comments on the Express make up almost half of all comments across the entire Reach group, which also includes the Mirror, Daily Star and Daily Record brands.
“That level of engagement made us think, okay, that’s got the potential to try something.”
Little said it was too soon to confirm whether other brands might offer the same option as the Express, but that “anything is possible”.
‘Newsrooms love’ reader revenue experiments
Little said these three experiments may ultimately be brought more closely together, perhaps offering users the ability to mix and match a bit more, but at the moment they are separate elements to the overall direction of travel.
“Naturally what we’re going to want to do is bring all this together and package it up appropriately in time, but for the moment it’s very much about learning.”
The journalists involved, Little said, are very positive about the experiments as they can think: “I hit the mass audience at the same time as really making sure that people who come to me every day get to read it in the best format they can in the way they want to.”
He added: “It’s very exciting, the newsrooms love it. We have journalists who create great content every day, they know how to get their content out to as many people as possible. This has given them something else to get their teeth into and learn about and understand more about the audience so it’s been really enjoyable, and hopefully we’ll just keep pushing it.”
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